Star Date: August 2005
Hello Dear Family & Friends!
Nehih ho ma!
(Hello, how are you? Cantonese)
"Once upon a time Chuang-tzu dreamed he was a butterfly fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. He was conscious only of following his fancies as a butterfly and was unaware of his individuality as a butterfly. Suddenly he was awakened and there he lay. Now he did not know whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or whether he was a butterfly dreaming he was a man. "
(Chuang-tzu 4th century Chinese sage)
Chuang-tzu's haunting observation captures our imagination and challenges our acceptance of both dream and reality. Is this really me and am I in China or................???
Four hours after leaving the Islamic
city of Kuala Lumpur we landed in Macau, the colonial Portuguese
territory full of Catholic cathedrals. Next we were dazzled by the
skyscraper jungle of Hong Kong where "Money is god" and finally on to
Mainland China where Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism were a way of life. Chuang-tzu
would have been really perplexed awakening in the life of a modern
traveler with its dizzying kaleidoscope of contrasting customs, religions,
sights, colors and smells. Not too far off we may be pondering is this
The Inspector took us through all the backstreets on his beat the following day. Even his long standing influence had little effect with the cold bureaucracy of the Chinese visa department. That evening we were guests of Macau Towers at a candlelit concert of yet another Parisian entertainer. Before heading home to our "hotdog stand" (like "Meaner Wiener" in Puna) we cruised through a couple of the new glitter and glitz casinos on the edge of town. With 27 casinos under construction this is slated to be the Las Vegas of the East. A great new place to lose your money!
We took the fast ferry to Hong Kong. In the 18th century Europe lusted after the fineries of Chinese silk and tea but because China was totally self sufficient, trade was unfavorable. With control on the agenda, the British introduced opium from India into the culture. Opium dens and addiction became a widespread problem and when the Chinese dared to amass weapons to stop the ships from dumping their destructive cargo it was taken as a sign of aggression and the Opium Wars resulted. The British took over Hong Kong and for 150 years it was a "borrowed place on borrowed time." In 1997 the island was handed back to China with little apparent change (although the recently elected mayor had to wait 2 weeks for approval from Beijing to take office). This meeting place of the East and West pulsates 24 hours a day. Across the water in Kowloon mind-boggling changes have taken place since 1960 when Joseph and his mother first visited. Staying at the Peninsula Hotel then, and many times on business since, he has watched this city literally burst at the seams with expansion.
We used Hong Kong as our springboard into mainland China. Like being caught in crashing waves at the ocean's edge we sank momentarily and came up gasping. While Cantonese and English is spoken in Hong Kong, just over the Shenzhen border was another matter. Absolutely everything, everywhere was only in Chinese. After taking the wrong bus in the wrong direction we walked back to the train station. From there we took the right train at the wrong time but instead of "Throwing Mama from the Train" they let us stay and we slept in the dining car. We had a constant receiving line of visitors wanting to stare or practice English. Upon arrival 14 hours later one new friend paid for 2 taxi fares in search of an ATM and bottles of water. When the ATM machines wouldn't cooperate (we found out later it was our bank's error) he changed $100 and drove off into the sunset never to be seen again. The last English speaking person we would see for 6 days he was very typical of the helpful, honest, friendly Chinese we will be living with for the next year. They are very practical, utilitarian and loud, no time for the little games, tiptoeing around the issue, that plague the west. They say what they think and if it has to be done - do it -no matter who's watching (within reason). They are so Un-cool that they are Cool! Why not wear a plastic bag on your head when it's raining? Try that one down your main street! Even the sternest look is soon melted with a smile and "Nihao". We have become the champs of pantomime and laugh a lot. The Chinese have a childlike curiosity as they stare at pant legs being zipped off or rub the hair on Joseph's arm. Oh, did I mention they were loud? Only 2 volumes, loud and louder. With 1.5 billion people they aren't used to serenity and privacy. A small town in the east has one to six million people.
Staying off the beaten paths has its rewards as we soon found out. Visiting the Holy mountain of Huang Shan, the misty peaks depicted for 1200 years by artists, was an introduction to hordes of Chinese tourists. A recent increase in fees into National Parks and World Heritage Sites has made these places off limits to the ordinary Chinese. Instead buses of loud, excited tourists following a flag descend like locusts on certain tourist destinations. Their noise is only drowned out by the souvenir vendors hawking their wares at the entrance. Chinese tourists, you gotta love 'em! Having come around the world you don't want to miss certain sites so you have to figure out where and when they storm the beach and adjust accordingly. This plan found us in the next park over, paying 25 Yuan instead of 200 Yuan entrance and spending the afternoon swimming in our usual style, totally undisturbed, gazing at the side of Huang Shan.
This strategy also worked at the famous Shaolin temple. The origin of Kung Fu (Remember "Grasshopper"? He studied here) these monks combine ancient moves derived from nature, with Qui Kung, energy movement, and a form of Zen Buddhism meditation. The setting lends itself to wandering around the surrounding hills and through the temples, with students practicing moves in the courtyards. We happened into a practice room where the masters were resting from the performance they do for visitors. We started talking with them and Joseph shared a balancing move he has done since he was little. They tried it and we all laughed as only one could do it. We were then invited back into the depths of the temple to share a simple but delicious vegetarian lunch with them. They even offered us a place to stay but unfortunately we had a room back down in town. Maybe next time.
Paying the fee, seeing the main temples, then avoiding the crowds, also worked on Putuo Shan; the Buddhist island dedicated to the Goddess Guanyin . We walked a quiet beach, spent an hour sharing large mulberries with 4 ancient nuns at the end of a "wrong turn" path, and hung out two afternoons near a pagoda on a rock outcropping next to the Sun Cave. Cause and effect allows for the unfolding of a completely different Chinese experience. Skip the tour and see what happens!
This land of contrasts threw us up once again into the fray as we stepped off the ferry and were swallowed by Shanghai. Labeled as Paris of the East, Whore of the Orient, and haven of opium dens, this city has been a rich tapestry woven of gamblers, adventurers, gangsters, and sailors alongside missionaries trying to save their wicked souls. With governmental/international corporate corruption replacing much of the small time action on the side streets this former territory of the French is still home to many foreigners. Topping out at over 16 million, China's largest city boasts that "a skyscraper a minute" is emerging above the smoke of the factories. We retraced the steps of author Emily Hahn ("No Hurry to Get Home" & "Nobody Said Not to Go") who lived in Shanghai during the 1930's. Ghosts of this era remain in the financial district along the Bund, the side rooms and bars of the Peace Hotel, and along the tree lined streets of the French Concession. We also marveled at the back street night markets, the new Shanghai Museum, and the mind-blowing contortions of the Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe on stage at the classic Lyceum Theatre. Just picture 5 motorcycles racing around at high speed, inside a 20 foot diameter steel cage sphere, without crashing. In fact we are amazed continually by the diversity that makes China a destination like no other.
And so it goes...........................................................Next the Forbidden City and west to Inner Mongolia. Until then Keep Smiling and Keep in Touch. Take time right now to go to a mirror and ask yourself "Who am I?" and.................................."Am I awake or 'dreaming me'?"
Love, xoxoox Nancy & Joseph
Our journey of China's East Coast from Macau up to Beijing
8Yuan = $1U.S.
Honest, reliable Chinese visas in Hong Kong
(E. Sambhwani, manager,)
Wing Lee Guest House: clean, safe, 10th floor Mirador Mansions, 54 Nathan Road, Kowloon,(150-200 HK$/Yuan) for a miniature HK style room.
Hong Kong pulsates 24 hours a day!
Strolling along one of the many canals in Shaoxing
Elaborate statues of Buddha in the Temples of Putuo Shan
One of the ancient nuns we shared berries with.
Balancing on 4 spears during the demonstration by
Eating a simple vegetarian meal with the Shaolin Masters.
Joseph shared a couple balancing moves with the
monks and we all
Preparing for meditation at one of the temples.
A curious old man we shared a seat with on the
The futuristic skyline of Shanghai from the Bund.